As the Unicorns, provocative Montreal wunderkinder Nick Diamonds and J'aime Tambeur happily hoofed across an enchanted musical landscape. Their songs were fun but dark, simple but ambitious, with lyrics running the gamut from death and ghosts to...ghosts and death. The Unicorns' stage show could inspire equal fits of glee and frustration, finding the duo performing with puppets, inviting up the homeless to bang on pots or band members staging between-song fights with each other (although now, with rumors of ever-present inner-band turmoil swirling about, maybe the fights weren't that staged).
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Now reconfigured as Islands, Diamonds and Tambeur pick up where the Unicorns left off, albeit sans all the ghostly hoo-ha. This time around we are treated to songs of the sea, volcanoes and, um, Bobby and Whitney. All exhibit the same sweeping melodies, intricately picked guitars, pulsing rhythms (steel drums!?), eerie instrumentation (steel drums!?) and playful lyrics that rocketed the Unicorns up the popularity rainbow in the first place. Their album Return to the Sea is awash with achingly beautiful pop flourishes and dense musical layers, hop-scotching through genres with unspeakable ease, many times landing squarely, and appropriately, somewhere in the Caribbean (steel drums!?). Songs like "Rough Gem" and "Where There's a Will There's a Whalebone" will etch themselves into your ears with the greatest of ease, with the latter throwing in a few bars of rap for good measure. Yes, rap. Perhaps at least one ghost stuck around after all: that of band muse Andy Kaufman.